Better Quality of Life
Kayleen Oliver is known for her calm presence, resiliency, and patience. A Senior Specialist with Vital Decisions for 3 years, Kayleen is focused on guiding people with serious illness and their loved ones through our services. A consummate learner, Kayleen is also in the process of pursing her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Chestnut Hill College where her dissertation work is centered around advance care planning.
☀ What brought you to Vital Decisions?
While completing a graduate school internship in Camden, NJ at a Domestic Violence clinic, the husband of a coworker had been employed at Vital Decisions. At the same time, my Grandfather had dementia and our family was trying to plan. My coworker encouraged me to see if my Grandfather had comparable services to the Living Well program to help in our process. Unfortunately, my Grandfather did not have the resource available, but hearing about program led me to research Vital Decisions. There were openings on LinkedIn and I applied.
☀ Tell me about the progression of your role at Vital Decisions.
I was hired as a Specialist in 2016. I found the role challenging and sought guidance from Cherry Hill Director-Markita Billups. She gave me an opportunity to grow my skills and focus on client work more exclusively. I have been in this role ever since! Recently I was invited to sit for Advanced Care Planning Certification at Vital Decisions which I achieved! I also have collaborated with Client Services to present my work with clients to the health plans. Two current projects include a pilot of a Living Well Summary- an opportunity for clients to receive a paper summary of their sessions after each call. I’m also collaborating on the development of a grief resource guide for employees.
☀ Understanding the value of this program on a personal level, how has your loss experience impacted your work at Vital Decisions? How do you find meaning in your work?
Two years ago, I lost my Grandmother while working as a Specialist. The experience helped me to sit with people and be real with them, especially family members of those we work with. I try to acknowledge, “this is hard, the anticipatory loss, to lose a part of the person every day.” Difficult decisions come when addressing the physical and mental aspects of illness and care, particularly for Alzheimer’s or late stage Dementia patients. Doing this work and helping others helped with my own grief process and kept my own situation in perspective.
☀ The work of the Specialist role is meaningful and also must be difficult. What are some things that have made you successful?
Being a student, a learner, newer to the field and coming in with a fresh perspective. Being able to adapt to changes and remember that what you learn today might not be what works tomorrow. It’s a different type of role and adjusting can be hard. If you’ve had a loss while at this job, there is value in leaning into your experience to help you move through. The personal experience allowed me to have conversations and find language for something we don’t often discuss, you just have to give yourself time to process. Taking time for family especially time with my nieces has become more important as I’ve gone through this job. Journaling and having a good support group outside of work to decompress is helpful.
☀ What advice would you give to colleagues looking to progress at Vital Decisions?
If you want to pursue something, bring it up and be persistent. I got my role as a Follow Up Specialist because I advocated for myself. Be open to learning and ask questions. If you are nominated to participate in a project, be honest about your availability or interest, but be open to it.
☀ What do you hope to achieve in your career?
The hope is to work as part of a hospice or palliative care team facilitating conversations around end of life choices regardless of age. I am also interested in having discussions regarding the shift in ones capacity to make care decisions for themselves and when is the appropriate time for representatives to step in, allowing patients to have control and autonomy in their process for as long as possible.
☀ What makes Vital Decisions different than any other organization you’ve been a part of?
The flexibility. You are treated like a professional with something to say and what you have to say matters. Also, this is a new population – serving those with advanced illness as previous roles were behavioral.